Words and images by: Micah Ling
Rad is definitely the word to describe the Rad Dirt Festival in Trinidad, Colorado. Fall weather in Colorado is always tough to predict, and after two days of cool rain, I wasn’t certain what I’d find when I climbed onto my Routt RSL Saturday morning. But the sun came out, and the roads ended up being some of the best gravel I’ve experienced all year.
Trinidad, Colorado has a rich and abundant history. Located in the Purgatoire River valley, it’s only 13 miles north of the New Mexico border — at an elevation of 6,025 feet. As was the case in most of the area, settlers came largely from the south, and pushed the Ute people out. The town was officially incorporated in 1876. By 1900 the population had soared to 7,500 people.
There was a railroad boom, a coal mining boom, and plenty of violence and disaster. Then, it got a reputation as the “Sex Change Capitol of the World” in the 1960s. There’s even a documentary about it. More recently, a major investment in the marijuana industry dubbed Trinidad “Weed Town, USA.”
This is all to say, the brick streets of this town have seen some things. Which, in my opinion, makes it all the more interesting. Race Director Tamira Jenlink, along with the whole Rad Dirt team, and many retailers in the area, are hoping the next — and lasting — reputation Trinidad earns is for excellent outdoor recreation. As the bike sponsor for the event, Moots hosted a clubhouse gathering place for the weekend, right at the start / finish line in a storefront on Main Street. Group rides, happy hour drinks, gear giveaways, and post-race pizza. It was clear that the community around gravel riding will grow here for years to come.
While I opted for the 99-mile “Anteloop,” there was something for everyone. The Stubborn Delores was the big one — 165-miles of all-day gravel riding. And also a more beginner friendly 38-mile loop, The Frijole. For the non-cyclists, the running events included a 50K, and a half-marathon. Or you could combine a day of biking with a day of running and knock out back-to-back events. No matter which way you decided to “rad,” it was certainly epic.
The Anteloop riders rolled out at 7:30am on Saturday, October 2nd. It was 46-degrees and the streets were still wet, but the sun showed promise, peeking out from behind the famous town sign up the rocky bluff. I’m not going to sugarcoat it, those first 10-miles had me worried. The gravel / dirt was soft and sloppy. Bikes were covered with mud and grit almost instantly. I saw more near wipeouts than I could count. But, with the debut Paris Roubaix Femmes in the back of my mind, I charged on.
Luckily, after the sun warmed the roads and our bodies, things only got infinitely better. By mile 18, it was smooth sailing. I started wondering if the gravel had been raked and manicured. With only a few short sections of washboard on the whole course, it’s easily some of the best gravel I’ve been on in Colorado. Unlike the relentless climbing that some areas of the state are known for, Trinidad’s landscape is mostly rolling. Despite accumulating 5,000 feet of gain on the day, there aren’t any soul crushing hills. Even luckier, on the second half of the out-and-back portion of the course, we had a delightful tailwind.
The Routt RSL was the bike for the course. Perfect geometry and perfect at dampening when the roads got rowdy. Plus, it just looks so good — even covered in mud. When I’m on my Moots (and I’m on my Moots a lot) I always feel like it’s an extension of my body — like we could do just about anything together.
All smiles at the finish line. Main Street was alive with music and dancing. As I collected my finisher’s mug an older gentleman asked me about the race, and it was only then that I realized all of the festivities downtown were going on unrelated to Rad Dirt. This place has an excellent vibe, full of culture that you don’t see in most of Colorado. After I brushed off some of the dirt still caked on from the early miles of the race, I walked the streets of Trinidad, looking at art, loading up on snacks, and enjoying the day. I’ll definitely be back to this area, and I look forward to future versions of Rad.